Sunday, January 24, 2016

Author Spotlight: Chris Adams and James Downe

Author Spotlight 

In this weeks author spotlight I meet up with James Downe to discuss his novella, Grim Drifts of Sand & Fate, part of the, Legacy of Ash, a Fantasy, Grimdark series by James Downe & Chris Adams.

What is your novella about?

James - Well, Grim Drifts of Sand & Fate is a novella, and most definitely in the fantasy/grimdark genre.  It follows an escaped prisoner from an imperial prison named Ceprium Past on a journey across a ruined wasteland.  On his tail, hunting him to bring him to justice are three imperial knights, each with their own agendas and motivations.  As the story unfolds, we see the two sides, the hunter and the hunted, as well as the reasons why Ceprium Past was imprisoned in the first place.  His power has attracted the attention of Tesc, goddess of death, the Empress of Wraiths.  From the heart of the ancient wasteland, to the streets of the imperial city called Tyrant, Ceprium fights to free himself, and to break the bonds of this dark goddess.
Chris – The Shadowcast Gate is a grimdark fantasy novel that follows the exploits of The Sphinx, a hardbitten mercenary company.  The men and women of The Sphinx face religious strife and political scheming at home, and long odds on the field of battle against the restive southern nomads.  The company’s newest recruit, Caidris Imbratha, flees assassins sent by the Kheldr Prelacy, and he hides a dark secret that could endanger the entire mercenary band.                   

What inspired you to write this novella?

James - This novella is part of a larger world I’ve co-created with my good friend Chris Adams.  We’re both working on separate stories set in the same world, and as I’ve been writing my full length novel I realized there were several smaller tales that were growing in the back of my mind.  Things that flesh out the world, the system of faith and magic, and the politics.  So as I wrote I just started collecting and organizing my thoughts, coming out with a few short stories and this larger novella.  So, while Grim Drifts is a standalone tale, it is set in a world both Chris and I are exploring, building, and unravelling though a series of (at the moment) smaller tales.
Chris – The world of Calus Rukan in which our stories are set had its roots in an ongoing Dungeons & Dragons campaign.  As we developed the setting, James and I quickly realized that it was teeming with characters who each had a story to tell.  For me, the history of the setting developed very organically, with successive layers giving rise to diverse political and religious forces – I wanted to examine how those forces shaped the characters and their choices.  Also, James and I love to throw ideas at one another, and I think each of us inspires the other to greater creativity.  I know James will often casually drop a name or a word or a phrase that will light a spark and lead my writing in a direction I might not otherwise have explored.        

Who is your favourite, and least favourite, character in the novella?

James - My favourite character is one of the knights, Taren Chem.  He’s an older, retired veteran, a forgotten hero of the empire who wants this last chance to relive the glory the once knew.  I’ve always been drawn to the rough and grizzled soldiers in fantasy books, like Croaker in Glen Cook’s Black Company, or Sergeant Whiskeyjack in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Books of the Fallen.
Least favourite?  That’s a hard question.  There are a few minor characters, but that seems like cheating.  I guess my least favourite would be Vendris Sindre, one of two monks the knights meet in the Wastes.  It’s not so much that I don’t like the character, but that I didn’t really take the time to explore her background much.
Chris – I had originally planned to tell the entire story from the point of view of The Sphinx’s greenest recruit, Caidris Imbratha, a boy from the mountain clans who joins the company in order to hide from murderous zealots.  But as I fleshed out the mercenary company’s ranks, from the newer recruits to the grizzled veterans, I realized I’d set a poor kid who wasn’t very interesting – yet - against a few score larger-than-life characters with long, bloody resumes.  Caidris took a back seat.  My current favourite is Cant, a battle mage.  I have an unholy amount of fun writing the scenes with long-suffering Cant and his loyal but foul-mouthed friend, Gallow.
The hardest character to write has been Tashigal, a dragon.  Finding the right voice for an ancient creature of such immense power has been a balancing act between advancing the narrative and being suitably enigmatic.     

What draws you to this genre? Do you write in any other genre?

James - So far I’ve only written fantasy, but I’ve recently had an opportunity to meld a bit of ‘western’ into the mix.  I am inspired by a lot of different genres; I try to read as many different things as possible.  That said, I know I’ll always fall back on fantasy.  It’s always been a part of me, from the first time I read Tolkien or C.S.Lewis, there is something about the fantastic, the otherworldly, which has always made me happy.  Fantasy is exciting.  It can be grand sprawling epics or small personal stories of revenge.  It can be total escapism, or social commentary.  I love the diversity of the genre, a broad empty canvas that can play to as many rules as you want it to.
Chris – Fantasy - and grimdark fantasy in particular – offers the opportunity to explore darker themes that would have been off limits not long ago.  Standard fantasy tropes are regularly being set on fire now, and stylistic experimentation is encouraged.  It’s an exhilarating time to be a new fantasy author, but daunting as well, given the vast amount of talent currently seeing publication.  As James mentioned, we’re involved in a western-flavored fantasy project, which has been fun.  It’s given me an excuse to re-watch everything from John Wayne, Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name series, The Magnificent Seven (and Seven Samurai) to Firefly.   Not that I ever need an excuse to watch Firefly.       

Is this a standalone novella, or can we expect more?

James - This is just a beginning; there will definitely be more.  This is part of a big project called the Legacy of Ash.  While I wrote this novella, the world in which it is set was created as a joint project between Chris and myself.  We started out playing some tabletop, pen and paper role-playing games (D&D, Pathfinder and the like).  After many sessions, we knew we had created something pretty compelling.  So, we decided to take our creation and develop it through writing.
We’re each working on novels and shorts set in the world of Calus Rukan, Chris on one continent with his own wave of characters and plotlines, and myself on another.  It has been a great project so far, in a similar vein to the older Thieves World novels, or the Malazan series by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont.  It might be a very ambitious project, but we’re both in it for the long haul.
Chris – I can’t speak for James, but the Legacy of Ash setting has enough material to keep me writing for the rest of my natural life.  The Shadowcast Gate is projected to be the first novel in a trilogy.  Some of my other work will be standalone, and I hope to continue to publish short stories.  I find them a great way to explore certain characters or facets of the setting that I might not otherwise be able to work into a full novel.     

Tell me about you and what drew you to writing? Are there any authors who inspired you to become a writer yourself?

James - I was pretty young when I first read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.  That’s probably the case with so many fantasy writers.  The Narnia books too.  Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence changed my world, really shook me up as a kid.  But it wasn’t until I read Terry Brook’s Wishsong of Shannara that I began to consider writing something myself.  I was in grade 7.  My teacher was a huge Terry Brooks fan and kept a bunch in the class for us.  I devoured that book in a weekend, didn’t even realize it was the 3rd in a series.  I found out that Brooks was still alive, and still writing.  Not like Tolkien or C.S.Lewis at all.  They were legends to me, untouchable.  Brooks made me see that anyone could try their hand at writing.  That I could form my own stories, tell my own tales.  My first attempts were atrocious, but we all have to start somewhere, right?
Since then, my tastes have darkened considerably.  I’ve already mentioned Glen Cook and Steven Erikson, which have been massive sources of inspiration.  I could go on and list so many big name fantasy authors.  Outside of the fantasy genre, I love Dostoevsky.  I’ve realized I’ve got a real soft spot for a lot of the classics.  Other than that, hand me anything by John Irving and I’ll be happy.
Chris – While I loved Tolkien, I would say Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein, Fritz Leiber and Frank Herbert were my earliest inspirations as a young reader.  When I was 12 I spent the summer with my grandmother, who had an old Smith-Corona electric typewriter set up on her sun porch.  She gave me reams of paper and let me rattle away all summer on it, churning out execrable fantasy and sci-fi stories.  That was when I truly fell in love with writing and the sheer exuberance of the creative process. 
Other authors who had a direct and substantial impact on my decision to become a writer include Janet Morris and C.J. Cherryh (my introduction to their work being the Thieves’ World anthologies), Poul Anderson (The Broken Sword), and Steven Erikson & Ian C. Esslemont (to whom James and I owe a particular debt for demonstrating that a successful two-author shared world was possible).  

Other than your own works, what is your favourite novel?

James - This is the hardest question.  I’ve got so many, depends on my mood.  I read and enjoy so much that isn’t fantasy that the list is hard to whittle down.  Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin is somewhere at the top of the list, but so is Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky.  I read The Orenda by Joseph Boyden last year, and re-read it again this summer.  If you haven’t read it, it’s a bit bloody at points but brilliant in every way.  If I have to pick a favourite fantasy novel (at least right now), it’s Steven Erikson’s third Malazan book, Memories of Ice.
Chris - This is like being asked which of your children is your favourite.  *lol*  I’ll have to narrow it down to a few of the classics I read again and again every few years.   Dune.   Winter’s Tale.   John Fowles’ The Magus.  And, while not a novel, Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry’s Wind, Sand and Stars for its simple lyricism.     

Have you written other books we should know about?

James - I’ve written two short stories, both part of the Legacy of Ash and set in the same world as Grim Drifts. The first is called Soldier, Kraken Bard, and the second is Redfall.  Both are available as ebooks.

Chris – Not yet.  I’m hoping to have all of my current work-in-progress complete by spring 2016.

If you could advise aspiring writers on only one aspect of authordom, what would your advice be?
James - The obvious answer is write.  All the time.  Whenever you can.  Keep at it.  The other things I would say is read, read anything you can get your hands on.  Find books and authors in other genres.  Learn how they craft stories.  And lastly, travel.  If you can, get out and see how other people live.  I find creativity does not flourish in a bubble, so get outside of it.  If it’s another city or town, great.  If it’s another country, better.  See as much of the world as you can, people all over have stories to tell.  Take from them, learn from them, be inspired by them.  And then get back to writing.
Chris – I second everything James said.  I would add something I have recently re-discovered – embrace academia.  When I left university I turned my back on scholarly journals in favour of fiction.  In the last couple of years I have drifted back to reading research papers for fun, primarily in the fields of archaeology, ethnography, linguistics and comparative religion.  The information complements James’ suggestion to travel, since it imparts a broader, deeper understanding of the cultures visited.  
Push yourself to seek experiences outside your comfort zone.  Live and love greatly.

Where can we find your novella?

Where can we find out more about you?

Chris Adams

James Downe


  1. That sounds like a great read! What a great interview with the author, too!

  2. You are so lucky to meet so many great people! Keep up!

  3. What a fascinating insight into the fantasy genre! I find it refreshing to read that there is still some good fantasy books out there and the dragon sounds like a powerful character.

  4. Interesting series, I have not read much in fantasy in awhile, I love the worldbuilding that authors create.

  5. I love that his least favorite character is one where he didn't get to explore the background very much. It just goes to shows how dedicated he is to every part of the book!!

  6. This sounds fantatasically fun! I read a lot of fantasy, I am going to have to look more into this series when I finish my current book!

  7. I have never been a huge fan of fantasy - although so many people are! I keep revisiting it, but it's just not me. I love how you always ask the authors for advice to new writers. I always find it inspiring!

  8. Sounds like a great author that you got to interview. You have been very fortunate to be able to chat with all of these authors - I am sure you love it

  9. I love to start books like this one on vacation when I can get really into them for a long period of time.

  10. I love reading these interviews! Thanks so much for sharing them!

  11. Wow, incredibly fascinating! Interviews are just as fun to read as the book. I always look forward to hearing more about the author!

  12. What a great interview. I love reading fantasy books!

  13. Great interviews! I'll have to check these out!

  14. I loved the interviews, having this kind of inside always helps getting deeper into the book!

  15. interesting interviews - getting perspective from them that i didn't think, quite frankly, that they had....

  16. love author interviews to meet the individuals behind the books offers a glimpse into their world sometimes their lives are related to the books and other times their is not a bit of similarity. Thanks for sharing a great post

  17. What an exciting book! Fantasy that's a bit on the dark side. I wouldn't mind reading this one! Thanks!

  18. Loved the interview and, I am sure my husband would love the book!

  19. It must have been fun to interview a lot of authors. I love reading fantasy books.


Be not afraid to speak. The weary worlds and heroic adventurers wait with bated breath to hear your thoughts.